In the wake of the week
Taking it from the top … … AFTER LISTENING TO Matt Leinart explain his decision Friday afternoon to remain at USC for his senior season, we realize he probably would have made it even if it wasn't the 49ers-in-shambles who own the No. 1 overall pick. "I realize the opportunity right now to support my family by going to the NFL early, but to me, I think college football and this whole atmosphere here of being with my friends and my teammates that I've been with for four years is ultimately more satisfying and will make me happier than any amount of money could make someone happy," was the way Leinhart put it during his news conference at USC's Heritage Hall. That should make the 49ers unhappy, because it immediately devalues their top pick and gives them less leverage when trying to shop it around the league. Which is what the Niners are going to do, everybody should know. Adding Leinart to the mix at the top of the draft was going to bump up the worth of the overall No. 1 and make other struggling teams desperate to grab Leinart, Aaron Rodgers or some other top QB prospect more willing to throw extra draft picks and/or players at the 49ers in order to acquire it. But as far as the considerable talk that the Niners would have taken Leinart No. 1? That wasn't going to happen. And Leinart, though he certainly has all the intangibles, still had to prove his physical attributes under the microscope of the NFL Combine next month. After speculation began that he could be the No. 1 overall after his spectacular performance in the BCS championship game, Leinart seemed to realize this when he said, "People say a lot of stuff. But I still have to go to the Combine and perform." Leinart would have performed well enough to still be a high first-round pick. Maybe even a pick the Niners could have traded down to acquire him at. But for the No. 1 overall, the Niners were going to get more bang for their buck than a not-quite-sure-thing Leinart. Now, of course, they'll be getting at least a little less than if Leinart had decided to go pro. … WE'VE HEARD NAMES such as Mike Shanahan, Mike Holmgren and Jeff Fisher – all distinguished 49ers coaching alumni – being whispered on the periphery of the 49ers coaching search all week. Not from the team, of course, which maintains there are no "secret" candidates – just the ones the team has been up front about all week as owner John York and other team officials conduct their coaching search. That might not be entirely accurate. And a distinguished 49ers alumni – not the coaching kind – came out and said so Thursday on a San Francisco Bay Area radio show. Citing his own sources – and identifying one of them as his former 49ers buddy Steve Young – Lott said there was a surprising candidate out there that "a lot of people don't know about." "Can they find a guy that no one is talking about? Can they bring him in?'' Lott said. "It might shock the world. It might mean getting him out of a contract from another team. You've got to be daring in situations like this. I'm hoping that they're daring, that they try to bring in somebody that is the kind of guy that I think we want. And that is a guy who can win right away, who commands respect, who is making people accountable and can have a vision about where they're going." If you think the 49ers were waiting around this week to see if Shanahan or Holmgren were fired after first-round playoff exits, that didn't happen. And the "daring" part Lott refers to seems to be an illogical idea of working some kind of "trade" of players and/or draft picks to get this mystery "guy" out of his contract, a tactic the NFL doesn't allow anymore, anyway. As former 49ers star Randy Cross said Friday, "In the situation the 49ers are in - from a standpoint of they do have a wealth of draft picks, things are just starting to get better cap-wise for that team starting this coming year - how much sense would it make to go after a guy that's going to cost you a couple of first-round picks and a bunch of money … I'm not sure if you're not putting yourself in an even deeper hole. Look what all that did for Tampa Bay." The Niners couldn't have climbed into that hole even if they wanted. But an established NFL coach still could emerge as a candidate real soon. He'll have to leave his current job first – whether it's by his own choice or those who pay him. The only way the 49ers will be parting with draft picks in the next two years is to acquire talent in return. And we're not talking coaching talent. … SPEAKING OF CROSS, we hear he has York's ear. It wouldn't surprise anybody to see him emerge as a possible front-office candidate in the upcoming organizational restructuring, perhaps even as the new general manager. … THE MIAMI DOLPHINS haven't confirmed it yet, but it already is being reported that Dan Quinn has left the 49ers to accept a lateral position as defensive line coach of the Dolphins. Of all the assistants who currently remain in limbo from Dennis Erickson's staff, Quinn absolutely is the top candidate to remain on the team's new staff that will be assembled once the new head coach is found. That's understandable. Quinn did the best job of any 49ers assistant this year – and, to be frank, one of the few good jobs by any of those assistants. Quinn said a few times last week that he wants to stay with San Francisco. But it's no surprise that he's ready to abandon ship. Plenty more assistants are sure to follow – and not many by their own volition. … PLENTY OF TALK has bounced back and forth around the NFL this week that the 49ers don't know what they're doing in their coaching search, that York and the two subordinates on his interview team probably know only a fraction about football compared to the men that they are interviewing. We hear that from all sorts of knowledgeable football men – and their opinions and thoughts are to be respected. But there's another thing coming from the actual interviewees. It might just be respectful talkspeak – and the politically correct thing for men who want the job to say – but the 49ers haven't been laughed at yet by the five qualified candidates they've interviewed so far. Here's our favorite comment from the first man interviewed this week, Tennessee offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger, as reported by a Bay Area newspaper. Speaking of the 49ers' interview committee, Heimerdinger said, "They knew what they wanted to ask and what they wanted to cover. They were very organized. It was very professional, first class. They knew who they wanted to target. It wasn't like they were just picking names out of a hat." … OF COURSE, DEPENDING on how you look at it, the 49ers are picking names out of a hat. Did they get any closer to finding their next coach this week? That remains to be seen. But according to the talk going around, Heimerdinger is the leading contender at the moment. But the Niners don't appear ready to pull the trigger just yet. They'll take the weekend to mull over the candidates already interviewed. Expect at least a few more interviews to occur next week. … AND, PRIVATELY, THE Niners would like one of those interviews to be with their first interviewee – New England defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel, who probably already would be identified as a finalist for the job if he weren't still trying to win a Super Bowl with the Patriots. Per NFL rules, the Niners can't speak with Crennel again until New England's season ends. If you happen to hear a chant resembling "Go Colts!" swirling in the wind this weekend, you'll be sure to know where it comes from.
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